A/N: Thanks go again to musings for amazing beta work and again helping find those little leaky places in the story for me to fill in. Also thanks to Incurable Romantic for her wonderful pre-beta work.
Ginny allowed herself a little longer than the ten minutes she’d promised in order to make sure all evidence of crying was gone from her face.
Eyes...still red. They’ll just think I haven’t been sleeping well. Which I haven’t.
Sniffles: gone. I think.
Once she had convinced herself that no one save the twins would know she’d been crying, she made her way back downstairs to the parlor where the Order would be starting its meeting. She tripped over herself at the bottom of the stairs and silently thanked Remus for his ingenious use of Silencio on Mrs. Black’s portrait, using her own Permanate Sticking spell against her in order to keep it from wearing off (or being removed by Kreacher). As she passed it, Ginny had to laugh at the red-faced Mrs. Black, mouth moving, shrieking about the “infidels” and “blood traitors” who were defiling her home (and who could, thankfully, no longer hear her). She was glad for the chance to smile: there were few enough reasons to do so lately.
The meeting was well underway by the time she slipped through the door and settled in next to Hermione. Tonks was reporting something about Hertford. “What’s going on?” Ginny whispered.
“There was a mysterious death in Hertford yesterday,” Hermione replied. “The Muggle doctors are calling it heart failure, but she was a witch. Young, too. Charlie’s age.”
“So far we there isn’t any evidence of Death Eater activity there, but—of course—this points to something fishy.” Tonks finished her report with a flourish of her wand that pulled up a map with marks of recent Death Eater activities. Unfortunately, doing so caught her wand in a nearby tapestry that very obligingly caught fire.
“Aguamenti!” came the shout from three different places in the room, and as a result a rather sopped and dejected looking Tonks took her seat next to Remus.
Moody stood to continue the meeting. “As you can see, Death Eater activity has been moving closer and closer to London. We’ve also seen a pattern of increased severity of these attacks: Voldemort is feeling more and more confident as time passes. Yes, Miss Granger?”
Hermione, not surprisingly, had her hand in the air. “Sir, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘more severe’? There have been much worse attacks than the death of one witch, and seeing as that was the latest...”
“That is correct, Miss Granger. However, when looking at the pattern of Death Eater movements it is most important to look at the full history. The attacks come in a wave pattern of severity—more aggressive attacks are followed by more minor ones, as though the enemy is nursing its wounds, so to speak. What we are seeing is a general rise in severity of attack: the most aggressive attacks are more aggressive than ever—frenzied, even—and even the less severe activities have increased in scope and number.”
“We are also seeing evidence that the Death Eaters have been growing closer and closer to an attack on London, and this pattern points to the most aggressive attack of all hitting London itself. Possible targets are the Ministry of Magic, King’s Cross, and Diagon Alley. Cooperation from the Ministry in protecting these places has been promised, though I imagine it will fall most heavily on the Order to provide protection. I’m going to assign regular watches on both Diagon Alley and King’s Cross from within our own ranks. The Auror department will provide the needed protection for the Ministry itself, I’ll make sure of that.
“Remus, I’m going to ask you and Jones to take the first shift at King’s Cross. Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley...no, no, William, not you, I’m talking to the twins.” The twins goggled at one another. “Yes, you. I’m going to ask the two of you to keep and eye on Diagon Alley through your store, and I’ll send one other member of the order to help out on a shift basis. Miss Weasley, why don’t you take the first shift at Diagon Alley?”
“Yes, sir,” Ginny replied. As much as she found watch shifts boring, she was glad for something to do. Besides, if all else failed, there was at least shopping at Diagon Alley. Though many stores had closed with the advent of the war, including Ollivander’s and Fortescue’s, the fact remained that there was still a need for some items. Madame Malkin’s had been one of the first shops to re-open, followed quickly by Flourish and Blott’s, Magical Menagerie, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and the junk shop, as well as others. Gringott’s, of course, had never closed, and neither had the Leaky Cauldron. The twins’s shop, as well, had remained open, though the business struggled, as a front for the development of a line of gadgets for the Order. Though by no means as busy as it was in her youth, Diagon Alley still represented a thriving business center, and was an important part of the Wizarding lifestyle.
“Very well. You will be provided with means of communication in case something happens during your shift. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t.”
Hermione stopped her after the meeting. “You were crying.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “I thought I’d got rid of the blotches.”
“No, no – Fred and George told me,” her friend replied. “Don’t worry, they didn’t tell anyone else. They just thought that I’d be able to help since I’m a girl. I told them that you’re perfectly able to take care of yourself and that if you needed my help you’d ask for it.”
“Thanks,” Ginny started pulling on her boots and winter robes.
“You would, wouldn’t you?”
Ginny stopped, one arm still out of her robes. “Would what?”
“Ask if you needed anything.” Hermione almost looked embarrassed to be asking.
Ginny continued putting on her things in silence for a moment before meeting Hermione’s gaze. “Look; you’re my best friend in the world. You know that. But what I’m going through...even I don’t know just how to explain it. I just have to live with it. Get used to it.”
The look on Hermione’s face was pure sympathy. “You don’t have to do it alone, though.”
Ginny looked closely at the older girl for a moment. Then she gave her best brave smile. “I know. I just...I feel like I chose this. Like I’d rather that I’d been in love and that I’m still in love, even though it hurts. That means that I’m choosing to be alone. Thank you, though. Thank you for being my friend.”
Tom, at this point in time, was trying to figure out a mystery.
Although he had expected his past to catch up with him eventually, he didn’t know that he’d expected it in quite the fashion it did. He’d expected tears, perhaps the Ginny person -- whoever she was -- seeing him walking down the street and grabbing a hold of him and kissing him senseless (she was very, very beautiful in this particular version of the story). Or perhaps slapping him across the face and calling him a huge prat (in which case she always seemed to have a large mole protruding from her nose and one eye that was noticeably smaller than the other). Either way, he expected to know what was hitting him when the time came.
Instead, he’d had an old man wearing an odd assortment of clothing (a heavy fur coat over a pinstripe suit with bedroom slippers and a quite voluminous feather boa that seemed to be taking the place of a scarf) winking at him.
Now, this is not to say that old men wearing odd clothing do not wink at just about any passerby who might happen to look their direction. That would not be a characteristic anyone would think any stranger than their clothing choice. No, this old man winked at him, nodded, and then spoke two simple words that threw him entirely.
Was this his last name? Potter? “Tom Potter” didn’t exactly have the ring to it that he had hoped for (not that he would admit to hoping that his name particularly had a ring to it, but it just seemed natural that it would roll of the tongue rather than bouncing off it). And it was such a common name, how was he supposed to do his research, now? After the old man had said his name, he virtually disappeared (it had been quite the crowded street), leaving Tom with no clue as to go about figuring things out.
He’d been so distracted on his walk back to the pub that he’d nearly run into a tiny old lady and had almost stepped on the tail of a small dog whose young owner had got quite upset about the ordeal. As it was, he’d got back rather later than he’d expected and brought with him a fairly serious headache, which hadn’t been helped by Greg’s (his boss’s) peeved comments. “Well, we certainly took our time getting back from the post office today!”
Tom mumbled something about crowds and set down the immense (and quite heavy) package he’d carried in on the bar. “What did you order, anyway?” he asked, rubbing his sore arms. “I very nearly dropped that on a little old lady—I think it would have been the end of her.”
Greg snorted as he sliced through the top of the parcel. “Well, I should hope that you hadn’t dropped it—these aren’t exactly durable.” He reached in and pulled out an antique beer tankard. “These, my boy, are antique and quite valuable pieces of dishware that are going to be set on top of the cupboard and out of reach—these are worth quite more than your whole life!”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Which isn’t saying much: I can’t seem to find my life right now.” He shared his day’s story.
“Hmm,” mumbled Greg as he pulled another item from the parcel—this one an antique tin (or silver?) cup with what looked like a cat emblazoned on the front. “Can’t say that the name Potter rings any bells. Common enough name; you could be anyone!”
Tom sighed deeply, grabbed a bar rag from the sink and started rubbing down the polished wood that would rather sooner than later be covered once again with ale sloshings and bread crumbs. “It’s looking more and more like this might be my new life, Greg. My only life.”
The older man shook his head. “Not that I don’t appreciate you wiping down the tables and pouring whiskey, but this is a pretty pathetic way to live. I’d say that that applies to me, as well, only I own the place and I figure that gives me a heads up over you.” He paused, waiting for a snort of laughter which never came. “Think about it. Get yourself an apprenticeship somewhere. You could become a mechanic or plumber—those jobs pay well, I hear. They’d better pay well for what I shell out every time the sink clogs.”
“I suppose,” came the reply. It was rather clear that Tom had stopped listening. Greg shook his head as the dark haired young man moved his way into the kitchen.
“I wish you could find yourself, young Mr. Potter. You deserve to be more than this.”
Right across the way, a young witch set herself down at a quite similar, though altogether different, pub. “Butterbeer, Tom? Thanks.”
“And how is Miss Weasley this fine afternoon?” the barman asked as he poured her drink.
She shrugged. “Been better. Ghastly weather.”
“Yes, yes,” Tom nodded knowingly. “It seems to have been much, much worse over the past few weeks. Diagon Alley is certainly feeling the drear.”
“That’s what the twins were telling me. Business is bad.” She leaned in close, as though sharing a secret. “George even mentioned the suspicion that Dementors might be involved.”
“Dementors? You can’t be serious!” Ginny thought she could see beads of sweat start to form on Tom’s bald head. “Most troublesome...most troublesome,” he muttered as he walked away from her down the bar, apparently to warn the couple down at the other end of the bar about the hordes of Dementors who would be raining down upon them any time now.
Time well spent. Ginny thought to herself. Plant an idea in Tom’s head and pretty soon everyone would be waiting for death to come walking down the street. Rather than worry about starting a panic, however, Ginny knew that it meant that the average citizen would be reporting anything suspicious to the Auror department, and that could only help matters.
She was just finishing up her drink when an old wizard came through the door out to London. Dressed in the usual fashion of adult wizards attempting to blend in with Muggles, he caused quite an epidemic of sneezing as he pulled off his giant fur coat to reveal a large and heavily molting feather boa in place of a scarf. “Ginevra!” he cried, throwing the coat toward the rack in the corner; unfortunately he missed -- though he didn’t notice -- and the coat landed on an unsuspecting little boy, whose mother gasped as she attempted to dig her son out. He was entirely covered in fur, dust, and feathers when she finally found him.
“Hello, Uncle Bernard!” Ginny stood as he approached and delivered a quick peck to his cheek. “What brings you to the Leaky Cauldron?”
“Well, I happened to be passing through the neighborhood and decided to come in for some of Tom’s best firewhisky. Tom!” he called out. “Some of your finest firewhisky, my friend! And another—what’s that you’re drinking, Ginevra dear?—Butterbeer for this young lady!”
“You ‘happened to be passing through’ from Cornwall?” Ginny asked quizzically once Tom had brought them their drinks, the dark look on his face telling her that he was still dwelling on the Dementors. Her uncle was known as a bit of a recluse, though he made his way out of his little cottage on occasion to visit old friends for just a day or two. Ginny hadn’t seen him in two years, and wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that no one else had, either. “Cheers.” She nodded and they each took a sip.
“Well, perhaps not just passing through. A little bit of business to take care of at Gringotts, and then a stop at the Ministry to visit my old friend Bebus in the Department for the Control of Magical Substances. Haven’t seen the man in years! Had a quick drink or two over his lunch.”
“I thought you looked a little pink already!” Ginny teased, then laughed as the old man nodded guiltily, then took another swig of his whisky. “How is the life of the only confirmed bachelor in the Weasley family in...well, forever?”
“Ah, good, my dear, just wonderful,” he wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “And you! I saw your young man just this afternoon!”
“My...? Uncle Bernard, I don’t have a ‘young man’.” She took another sip from her Butterbeer; at this rate, she might need quite a stronger drink by the end of the day.
“Why! Weren’t you with that young Mr. Potter? I could have sworn your father sent me a letter saying...”
Ginny didn’t hear anymore of what he said. Shock barreled into her like a Bludger. It was as though her body couldn’t take the pressure on her brain. She heard herself say, as though she needed to convince herself, “But Harry’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead.” A roaring sensation rose in her ears; her vision began to black.
About two minutes later she woke up on the floor of the bar. Her first thought was that her elbow had landed in something wet and vaguely lukewarm; she didn’t want to know what it was. Her second and third thoughts were to notice both the splitting headache she was currently experiencing, then the crowd that had gathered around her: one woman was saying, “She woke up!” as though that was not apparent by the fact that she’d started to stand. Pinching the spot just above the bridge of her nose, she pulled herself back up on her stool. “Water, Tom?”
Someone behind her whispered, rather loudly, “I thought it might be one of those Dementors everyone has been talking about!”
Clearly, this person hadn’t any experience with Dementor attacks.
“My dear, are you all right?” asked her uncle Bernard. “How many of those have you had?” He gestured to her glass of Butterbeer, as though it would have been strong enough to knock her out.
“Nevermind that! Did you say you’d seen Harry?” her voice was tight; she barely managed to croak out the words. Tom brought her a glass of water and she gulped it down.
“Why, yes. Just down Charing Cross. He was carrying a rather large package—he looked like he was in quite the hurry, in fact.” He paused to take another sip of firewhisky. “I would have stopped him, only I had a pressing appointment, myself. I was glad to see him, though. You don’t hear much about that boy lately, do you?”
“No, no. You couldn’t have seen him...he’s dead.” She turned her head from him to stare at the dull, chipped top of the bar. “He’s been dead eight months today. Surely you heard...”
“My dear, I do my best to ignore the newspapers unless absolutely necessary. I’ve run afoul of the Daily Prophet once too many times to trust anything they have to say. I trust my own eyes to tell me the truth.”
She looked back at her uncle. “You must have mistaken him for someone else.”
He frowned. “I was quite sure it was him. In fact, I’m still certain. He had the scar.”
Taking her head in her hands, Ginny leaned heavily against the bar. “Polyjuice Potion...or a Metamorphmagus. It has to be. There’s no way...” She sniffed loudly. “Will you excuse me for a moment, Uncle Bernard. I need to—”
She never finished her sentence, and took off for the loo.